During the registration process, you will have the opportunity to select a seminar should you wish to participate in one. Please bear in mind MSA rules for conference participation outlined in the CFP before you opt to make a selection. In short, appearances in the program are limited to one in each of the following types of sessions: panel or roundtable; seminar (either as leader or participant), What Are You Reading?, and digital exhibition.
If you do want to attend a seminar, please select your top choice in the first column and select your second and third choices in their respective columns. Please take note that while most seminars will be offered in person, a handful are being offered remotely to increase opportunities for participation for those members who cannot travel. Remote seminar offerings follow the in-person offerings in the list below.
Please note that enrollment in each seminar is limited to a total of 15 participants (including seminar leaders and invited participants). This is to ensure sufficient time for discussion of each paper.
Please aslo note that seminar enrollment closes with the close of early registration.
Emily Hyde, Rowan University
Claire Seiler, Dickinson College
Jed Esty, University of Pennsylvania
How and why do we write histories of modernism, today?
The expansive energies of modernist studies increasingly inspire scholars to become cultural historiographers of events, phenomena, institutions, and durations beyond the field’s privileged frames. Scholars of modernism write interdisciplinary histories of global networks and markets; diverse readerships and publics; political movements and resistances; environmental crises and imagined futures; specific localities, vast geographical expanses, and the many modes of moving around and between them. Though far from exhaustive, this list both speaks to the wide reach of modernist historiography and prompts urgent questions about its methods, motivations, and persistent exclusions. This seminar accordingly asks: how does or can modernist studies open onto neglected or lost histories? How can new models of creative, reparative, or speculative engagement with archival materials and traces push the field in new and critically inclusive directions? What are the lingering effects of the historiographic forms—e.g., Euro-American, hierarchical, militaristic—that shaped the field as it was institutionalized in the mid-twentieth century? What are the historiographic forms of global or plural modernisms, now?
This seminar invites papers that address—at any scale—the historiographic dimensions or potentialities of modernist studies. We welcome papers grappling with the process of writing or recovering modernist histories alongside conceptual papers about the writing of histories of, and outside of, modernism.
John Alba Cutler, Northwestern University
Harris Feinsod, Northwestern University
This seminar will consider patterns and instances of human movement that do not fit the familiar narrative parameters of migration, particularly liberal narratives of migration that understand it as a response to opportunity and an essential feature of the putatively multicultural, modern nation state. In and around the Great Migration, for example, were many forced movements, including the drift of Native Americans to urban centers during the Allotment Era; the displacement of Filipinos after the Philippine-American War; the forced repatriation of Mexicans (and Mexican Americans) in the 1930s; the post-WWI statelessness of a variety of European refugees; and Japanese internment in the United States, to name only a few. These forms of human movement pressure narratives of migration in at least two ways. First, they foreclose the temptation to equate movement simply with disruption, and hence, political resistance. When does abiding become a form of unruly response to the state? What vocabulary do we have to describe movement initiated by state violence? Second, they invite us to find ways that individuals and groups have adapted, innovated, and creatively reimagined the significance of forced movements. What aesthetic resources have marginalized and minoritized groups had recourse to in repurposing or taking control of the significance of their movement, even (or especially) when that movement is forced? We welcome papers that consider particular examples of human movement as well as papers that theorize political, social, and aesthetic features of unruly movement.
Trans Modernisms: Approaches, Problems, New Directions
Aaron Stone, University of Michigan
Mat Fournier, Ithaca College
Jules Gill-Peterson, University of Pittsburgh
Grace Lavery, University of California, Berkeley
Amongst the migrants shaping modernist landscapes were individuals moving across the borders of gender. While the histories, cultural productions, and representations of such communities are often addressed under the rubric of “queer modernism,” others have argued that a transgender analytic is necessary to apprehend the role of gender nonconformity in modernism and modernity. Some have asserted that fictional trans figures—e.g., Woolf’s Orlando—played a central role in establishing modernist aesthetics and dismantling conventional notions of gender. Others, like Emma Heaney, assert that such readings rely too heavily on queer theory’s tendency to erase trans materiality, allegorizing the trans subject as an overdetermined symbol of transgression. In The New Woman, Heaney argues for distinguishing between “expert” definitions of trans femininity and “vernacular” notions that emerge from the cultural practices and productions of “fairies, mollies, and Maryannes” (9). Others, following Jessica Berman, have examined the conceptual resonances that exist between the “trans” in transgender and the “trans” in transnational. Additionally, scholars such as Chris Coffman have used transgender theory to reconsider the gender expressions of queer modernist figures such as Gertrude Stein.
This seminar invites scholars to reflect on extant approaches to trans topics within modernist studies, investigate methodological conundrums, and propose paths forward. Seminar participants will submit position papers of 5-7 pages, which will be circulated in advance. The two-hour seminar will be broken into thirds. In the first block, participants will assess the current state of trans approaches to modernist studies. The middle third will be devoted to addressing potential problems in considering modernist objects from a trans perspective, with special consideration to frictions that exist between trans studies and queer studies. In the remaining third, participants will propose possible futures for trans modernist studies. This seminar aims to foster thoughtful new contributions to the study of trans modernisms.
What Is Antifascism? Politicizing Art in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
Brandon Truett, University of Chicago
Miguel Caballero, Northwestern University
In recent years, fascism has reemerged as the site of widespread discussion due in part to the circulation and influence of rightwing ideologies across the world (Trumpism, Brexit, Duterte in the Philippines, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Le Pen in France, Vox in Spain, etc.). In contrast, as the historian Michael Seidman argued in his 2017 book Transatlantic Antifascisms, “antifascism has received little attention,” despite being “perhaps the most powerful Western ideology of the twentieth century.” As Seidman and many other scholars have pointed out, the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) was the moment in which antifascism crystallized as an international concern. In 1972, Michel Foucault framed Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus as “an Introduction to the Non-Fascist Life … an art of living counter to all forms of fascism.” Indeed, antifascism or nonfascism has seemed to signify any political movement that resists what is perceived as fascist, thus amplifying uses of both terms while risking their historical specificity.
This seminar invites papers from scholars working on antifascism and its relationship to art and literature in any national or cultural context. Following Emilio Gentile’s debate on the scope of fascism, we seek to discuss whether antifascism is an ideology constrained to a specific historical period and/or a political disposition transcending time. Specifically, we are interested in exploring how these definitions affect our understanding of the works of art and literature that have been animated by, or presented through, antifascism. We ask that participants also address the following conceptual questions: What does it mean to describe a work of artistic expression as antifacist? What is the relationship between artmaking and antifascist activism? How has the concept of antifascism migrated across a global range of contexts in which people use art to resist myriad forms of fascist aggression (racism, settler colonialism, nativism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia)?
Transracial Circuits, Transnational Modernism
Zoë Henry, Indiana University
Jennifer Fleissner, Indiana University
Kevin Quashie, Brown University
Nella Larsen saw Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives as a powerful meditation on Black experiences, and had “Melanctha” in mind as she wrote Quicksand. Langston Hughes revisits Poundian imagism in poems such as “Chord” and “Subway Rush Hour”—the latter a direct response to “In a Station of the Metro,” pushing the principle of condensation further than ever, and assigning races—and racial connections—to Pound’s “faces.” Wallace Thurman and Richard Bruce Nugent found themselves moved by James Joyce’s Ulysses, which offered a compelling connection between the Celtic Revival and the New Negro movement, as well as their own ambivalence to Harlem’s institutionalization. Like Stein, Pound, and Joyce, these authors were unafraid to critique the very terms of their work’s legibility. What could be more avant-garde?
This seminar takes its cue from Jahan Ramazani, who has argued that disciplinary boundaries tend to obscure the complex networks and cultural overlap of a transnational poetics. This is particularly true for modernism’s Black writers. The problematic appropriation of Blackness as “primitivism” by largely white European and American artists has been well documented. What has yet to be fully explored, however, is the extent to which Black modernist writers saw themselves reflected in, and contributed to, the larger currents of the period: questions of shock and rupture, alienation and homelessness, the fragmentation of consciousness, the disparity between the seen and the felt. Participants will consider how formal experimentation migrated in both directions across national and racial borders—as foundational in Passing as in To the Lighthouse, in Infants of the Spring as in Finnegans Wake—in order to become what we know it as today. As our world grapples with widespread anti-Black racism, modernist studies must consider how Black artists of the period have suffered from the move to adjectival pigeonholing, preventing a fuller appreciation of their rich contributions to modernist aesthetics.
Poetics Without Modernism
Ben Glaser, Yale University
Erin Kappeler, Tulane University
This seminar asks how we might re-theorize poetry and poetics from the late-nineteenth century through the present by deprioritizing modernism, the modern, and modernist form as conceptual categories. We invite papers that explore the following (and related) questions: To what extent do narratives of formal innovation and rupture continue to structure studies of poetry? How might these narratives foreclose other histories and other paradigms for the study of poetry and poetics? How are recent conversations about the new lyric studies, historical poetics, new formalisms, and transnational modernisms changing the way we talk about poetic form? We invite papers that take up the many possible approaches to poetry and poetics that bracket concepts of “modern poetry” and “modern form” in the pursuit of literary historical knowledge.
We are interested in exploring the complexities of thinking without or around modernism right now, in 2021, in light of modernist studies’ increasing recognition of Indigenous and transnational perspectives as they challenge standard literary historical and geopolitical periodization. We propose this discussion, furthermore, in response to the near-total absence of open tenure-line positions in modernist studies in the United States academy. If there are pressing historical, theoretical, ethical, and institutional reasons to reimagine modernist studies again, what can poetry and poetics teach us about what the new new modernist studies might look like?
Modernism and Its Environments
Michael Rubenstein, Stony Brook University
Justin Neuman, The New School
How does thinking about modernism through the concept of environment expand, critique, and reconfigure what we’ve come to know as the modernist canon? What are the key differences between modernist understandings of the environment and those of their predecessors and inheritors? What can we learn from the moderns about the environment that may be obscured by our own thinking about the concept and the realities it attempts to describe? What does it mean to rethink modernism under the banner of environmentalism and/or ecocriticism?
In the spirit of their recent book, Modernism and Its Environments (Bloomsbury, 2020), the seminar conveners seek new research on a wide range of modernist environments, including wild spaces, industrial wastelands, urban ecologies, and colonial extraction sites, from scholars interested in both the green and the gritty manifestations of the modernist environmental imagination.
We solicit papers that explore the ecological, social, scientific, technological, and political transformations that marked the beginning, middle, and end of the modernist period, and that may even suggest a redefinition of modernism itself.
Misfits, Perverts, and Other Modernist Sexualities
Michael Lucey, University of California, Berkeley
Benjamin Kahan, Louisiana State University
Scholarship in queer modernist studies has recently turned its attention to misfits, perverts, eccentrics, and other forms of sexuality that fall outside available categories. Examining these defunct, inchoate, vestigial, and other non-normative organizations of eros and sexuality, this seminar strives to understand the encounter between individual modernist subjects and the increasing calcification of the hetero/homo binary. We’re interested in exploring the archives of these non-fitting lives, the vocabularies, affects, texts, sites, and practices through which individuals construct misfit sexualities. How do misfits negotiate, dispute, dodge, and experience historical shifts in sexuality? What existing discourses or older styles of subjectivity provide resources for fashioning nonce sexualities and their erotic repertoires? Do modernist aesthetic practices and literary forms provide affordances for the construction of these alternative sexualities? How do modes of eccentricity illuminate dominant categories and help us to understand sexuality’s taxonomic construction and also its imbrication with the colonial and racial taxonomic projects of the era? What attention is needed to what happens at discursive interstices, to palimpsestic effects, to effects of translation and poly-languaging, to willful or unwilled silences? Building on a wave of scholarship in queer of color critique, we will explore the relation between these sexually inchoate or unyarded subjects and processes of racialization to ask how sexuality is reconfigured when flesh rather than subjectivity becomes its anchor. How might these subjectivities record or engage historical events or how might they themselves be historical? Are these sexual subjectivities or erotic practitioners unique or do they coagulate into sexual subcultures or affective sodalities? In what ways are they constructed through logics of gender, class, age, religion, and other axes of difference? We will open by having the discussion leaders trace themes and intellectual through lines among the papers for 10 minutes each and then move to a general discussion.
Surrealism on the Move
Chris Townsend, Royal Holloway, University of London
This seminar explores the significance of migration and exile upon the creativity of surrealist artists and especially upon the evolution of the movement in the 1930s and ’40s away from the conceptual premises established in Paris under the aegis of André Breton. If surrealism begins as a relatively staid affair in the salons of Paris in the 1920s, with its movement limited to the urban dérive, by the 1930s it is an art of continental and global wanderers. Whether it is in the trans-Atlantic movement of European artists such as Leonora Carrington, South Americans such as Leonor Fini, or Breton himself, under the pressure of war, to the USA and Mexico; the permanent, yet unstable European settlement of an American artist such as Lee Miller; or the trans-European journeys of the British poet and painter Roland Penrose, “wandering” and resettlement will be crucial for the long-term development of surrealism.
This seminar seeks contributions that map these movements and explore their impact, with particular attention to artists already on the margins of surrealism because of gender and/or ethnicity, who redefine their practice as a consequence of trans-national and continental migration. What are the implications of new languages and social practices? Of new networks of friendship, and the transformation of old ones by distance? Of new sites and modes of publication and exhibition? Do these changed conditions allow us to re-map Surrealism as a whole?
In These Times: Activism, Labor, Modernism
Debra Rae Cohen, University of South Carolina
Jennie Lightweis-Goff, University of Mississippi
The Modernism/modernity Print Plus blog series “In These Times” is rooted in Chicago; it takes its name from the progressive monthly founded there as a broadsheet in 1976. In its celebration of Chicago’s modernist vibrancy, the MSA conference CFP leaves out the city’s radical tradition, its identification with the struggles of labor, its identity as “‘Hog Butcher … Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat.” How might similar occlusions and their redress, this seminar asks, inform our own activisms in the present, inside the classroom and out? How do conditions of precarity, contingency, and alienation blunt solidarity within and beyond the institutional silos of the contemporary university? In the spirit of the “In These Times” column, we invite position papers that respond to its initial prompt, now even more urgent in these times of academic disaster capitalism: “How can we insert the urgency of activism into our models of composition? We know how, if we didn’t earlier, to express this urgency as private citizens—march, volunteer, protest, get local, organize, call, write, share information, support each other, engage, engage, engage. But how do we as scholars of modernism and modernity do so?”
War & Interiority
Sara Crangle, University of Sussex
Maud Ellmann, University of Chicago
Adam Piette, University of Sheffield
Paul Saint-Amour, University of Pennsylvania
The violence of war is outward-facing, directed against other factions or nations. But this aggression emerges from within individual subjects, and is a manifestation of deeply held values, pervasive emotions, and foundational memories. This interiority drives all participants, from the reticent to reviled warmongers: in Mein Kampf, Hitler recounts how his childhood experience of reading his father’s histories of the Franco-Prussian War ensured that the “heroic struggle” for German identity would “become [his] greatest inner experience.”
In the aftermath of war, internalized processes and ideologies make sense of loss. In The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell describes how one D-Day veteran focused “‘the inner recording eye … on phenomena that the mind would be able to live with in the future.’” In the aftermath of World War I, modernist poets turned that inner recording eye on the grief-stricken subject: in “Paris,” Hope Mirrlees’s flâneuse wanders through a city in mourning as the Treaty of Versailles is negotiated. At the same time, traversing the same streets, Vicente Huidobro embarks upon Altazor, an epic poem lamenting the post-war “painful grammar walk[ing] through [the] brain.”
For Sarah Cole, modernist literary violence is either broadly representative or “private, subjective, and personal.” Focusing on these latter manifestations, this seminar will engage with the blurring of these two categories, as in Eliot’s “[u]ndisciplined squads of emotion.” Similarly, we might consider how wartime fiction of the 1930s and 1940s turns away from Freudian inwardness toward surface and detachment, as explored in Maud Ellmann’s current research. Collective interiorities could prove another preoccupation, as in the affective aims of propaganda. War might trigger recollections of past trauma, or, as in Amy Lowell’s “September, 1918,” it may foster utopian visions of a warless future when there will be no need “to balance” the self-conscious self “Upon a broken world.”
Should this conversation prove generative, organizers will consider collecting contributions for a journal special issue.
Literature and Action
Sarah Cole, Columbia University
Michaela Bronstein, Stanford University
Frances Negrón-Muntaner, Columbia University
This seminar asks of modernism: how did it attempt to intervene in the world? In “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” Virginia Woolf notes that a work of great literature should be complete in itself, and should not make a reader feel she needs to do something after reading it, such as join a society or write a check. But what if the point of literature is, specifically, to activate the reader to do something, including taking political action? Can we discern, either in modernism, adjacent to it, or as a separate literary ideal altogether, the project of activating and intervening, making changes in the present, and reshaping the direction of the future? Or, to take another tack, how might literature be put into action by other forces, perhaps beyond the author’s intention? For this seminar, I invite papers—feel free to think of them as provocations and thought experiments—that take up the prospect of an activist literary project. Participants might consider writers who aim for their work to propel some larger goal, even to the place of utopia, or might look in a less author-focused way at how literature can be enlisted to broader purposes, or may consider more collective models of literary action. Any genre of literature from anywhere in the world is welcome for consideration, and topics might include gender, race, geopolitics, empire, ecology/climate, economics, war, migration (the conference theme), or other areas where literary culture might be imagined, or even asked, to provoke change.
Innovative Approaches to Teaching About the First World War
Stacy Carson Hubbard, University of Buffalo
Mark Whalan, University of Oregon
Elizabeth Outka, University of Richmond
This seminar considers innovative approaches to teaching about the First World War and its continued historical relevance in the context of never-ending wars, technologies of destruction, pandemics, collective trauma, and militaristic masculinities. Participants are invited to share ideas for designing and teaching courses that put diverse materials into conversation and encourage students to participate in rethinking the war’s historical and contemporary import. Particular attention will be given to expanding WWI studies beyond the familiar texts, figures, myths, and tropes. Participants may want to share strategies for 1) crafting syllabi and assignments that challenge or expand familiar narratives about the war and include perspectives often excluded from history; 2) promoting critical thinking about historical and aesthetic issues surrounding violence and its representations; 3) or bringing theoretical perspectives from trauma theory, disability studies, queer studies, race theory, or postcolonial studies to bear on WWI literature, art, and history. In addition, participants’ papers might illustrate how they teach a particular work or cluster of works; how they combine literary, visual, and historical material into units; how they engage students in archival research and/or digital projects; what sorts of successful assignments they have developed; and/or what sorts of resources they utilize. Ideas for making WWI courses fruitfully interdisciplinary—combining history, literature, art, film, and popular culture—will be discussed, as will innovative ways of relating WWI topics to contemporary culture and politics in order to help students understand the war’s continuing significance. Collaborative, disruptive, experiential, creative, online, and student-centered pedagogies will also be of interest. Both novice and experienced teachers are welcome.
The format of the seminar will entail a short introduction to the topic by the organizer, followed by brief (10-12 minute) presentations by two invited participants who will detail specifics of how they approach teaching about WWI in their courses and how their research informs those courses. These introductory comments will be followed by feedback on submitted essays in groups of 3, and then a general exchange of ideas involving the whole seminar group.
The Migration of Forms
Emilio Sauri, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Eugenio Di Stefano, University of Nebraska at Omaha
Ericka Beckman, University of Pennsylvania
Nicholas Brown, University of Illinois at Chicago
Reflecting on the migration of the novel to Brazil in the nineteenth century, Roberto Schwarz notes that “the unification of the novelistic sphere with that of reality comes about through their almost total separation, and the dialectic of the two work through their precise articulation, and not, as usually happens, through some kind of conflation.” Writing in the 1970s, Schwarz here revisited a problematic that proved just as central to modernism and its migration to the peripheries: namely the artwork’s relationship to the world and to its audience; or, more precisely, how the artwork’s form refuses its reducibility to either. This claim is a resolutely aesthetic concern, but one conceived as vital not just to efforts to understand how forms travel across cultures and time periods, but also to imagining and interpreting the unequal relations that have long characterized the development of the world system as a whole. More recently, criticism and theory associated with the new materialisms and the decolonial turn have extended discussions about center and periphery into new directions. How might these approaches rewrite the histories of modernism and its migration to the global south? Importantly, where the dialectical tradition to which Schwarz contributes insists on the separation between artwork and world, such approaches discover new possibilities—critical, political, and aesthetic—in the critique of that separation. This seminar considers what these recent turns in criticism and theory have meant for our understanding of modernism’s relationship to the global south, and what they might tell us about the artwork’s relationship to the inequalities of the world system more generally. What are the limits of these critical turns? And how might the Schwarzian insistence on separation offer a means to think beyond them?
Zachary Rockwell Ludington, University of Maine
The industrial city is a key element in the story of modernism, but the modern city necessarily develops in contrast to other spaces and temporalities. Automobiles, aviation, rail, telegraph, telephone, and steam technology collapse distance and create new relationships between metropolitan centers; between cities and non-urban spaces; between individuals and the scope of their world. From the Baudelairean flâneur’s cultivated detachment to the revolutionary politics of Mexican estridentismo, the modern urbanite’s attitudes take shape in opposition to fading imaginaries of the old city and in dialog with non-urban spaces and the mythologies built around them, like the wilderness, the farm, the village, or colonial spaces. These spaces and temporal frames of mind are in flux at the beginning of the twentieth century, producing not a single urbanized modern consciousness but a multiplicity of ways of being modern: urban, rural, or otherwise. It follows, in Susan Stanford Friedman’s crisp formulation, that “multiple modernities create multiple modernisms. Multiple modernisms require respatializing and thus reperiodizing modernism.” Scholars have taken up this work in recent years, reading modernism in post-independence Cuba, rural England, or colonial India vis-à-vis modernity’s shifting notions of time and space. This seminar seeks to convene scholars working in various rural modernisms to find points of theoretical and aesthetic convergence and, indeed, divergence. The conversation will cross linguistic, political, and disciplinary boundaries, and highlight patterns of migration, communication, and transnational exchange evident in modernist work that engages with rural spaces.
Modernism and “the Whiteness problem”: Filling Gaps, Identifying Investments
Jennifer Nesbitt, Penn State University - York
Sonita Sarker, Macalester College
Kelly Walsh, Yonsei University
The phrase “the Whiteness problem” ironically invokes earlier designations “the woman problem” and “the Negro problem” to suggest both distinctions and relationships among attempts to source a social issue in a singular identity feature. And yet Anglophone literary modernist studies, despite scholarship redressing silences around race and colonialism, remains grounded in a largely unmarked norm designated “whiteness.” This is a problem. The 2021 MSA seminar on whiteness seeks participants engaged in revisiting modernist authors’ own self-representations, elisions, or sublimations of whiteness; it also invites self-reflexive considerations of scholarly method, pedagogy, and theory in modernist studies.
We invite participants to rearticulate modernist whitenesses considering the ample evidence that, first, white dominance has always already been a conversation in modernist communities: to name only US-based texts, think of Nella Larsen’s Passing and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. In this context, to what extent do Nancy Cunard’s and Carl Van Vechten’s works, to take only two instances, implicitly inscribe a particular whiteness? In a larger frame, this seminar is informed by the vast field of Whiteness Studies in which seminal works are now at least 25 years old.
This seminar expands work on inclusion that MSA began in prior conferences and meshes with the themes of MSA 2021 such as “translation, transmission, transmediality, transnationalism, transgenderism, transraciality, and transference.” We look forward to a dialogue that carries across areas of the world as well as in diverse media and disciplines. As Matthew Frye Jacobson’s Whiteness of a Different Color indicates, whiteness itself migrates, changing shape depending on contexts, local or otherwise. When it comes to racialized passing, for instance, the lines between forced and voluntary migrations become blurred.
Participants may examine whiteness intersectionally as a category produced dialectically with both its racialized and ethnicized “others,” gender (especially masculinity), language, age, dis/ability, class, and sexuality. We also encourage contributions that examine the heterogeneity of whiteness or systems that enable or constrain the recognition of whiteness. Comparatist approaches that decenter Anglophone cultural contexts, or analyses that center aboriginal Australian, mixed-race Brazilian, or creole Caribbean works are particularly welcome.
Participants may ask and respond to such questions as the following: By what means can whiteness as a structuring element be rendered (il)legible or (in)visible? When and why does whiteness disappear as a category of analysis? How does terminology disguise or telegraph investments in whiteness? By what processes are analyses of whiteness made theoretically, institutionally, or politically inert? From which positions and vantage points can “we” hear conversations about whiteness and how are these interventions listened to, heard, or addressed?
Elemental Ecology in Modernism’s Time of Crisis
Molly Volanth Hall, Rhode Island School of Design
Laura Winkiel, University of Colorado at Boulder
The blasted landscapes of World War I are often described by writers and diarists as atomized and primeval. A focus on geologic reduction seems pervasive within Anglophone modernist works responding to this particular crisis: twisted metal, jagged rocks, rent soil, cracked earth, air aflame, thick suffocating muddy waters. How might we see this elemental ecology as a trope or register particular to war-time or large-scale socio-political crises of Modernism in general, beyond World War I?
Does it appear in the early feminist literatures and political writings of suffragettes? What of those writing against the violence of empire in its many forms? The rise of the new “urban jungle”? Labor struggles, race riots, and their attendant political rhetorics and counter protest writings?
This seminar seeks to interrogate exactly this matrix of crises and their potentially elemental rhetorics and images, asking what such tropologies make possible or legible, and what they foreclose and incite? Situating itself within the trajectory of such new materialist scholars as Jeffrey Cohen and Lowell Duckert, participants are invited to explore how writers have used the elements throughout this period of increasing violence, destruction, and catastrophe—social, military, and environmental—to mediate individuals’ experiences of crisis for themselves and the potential epistemological, ontological, and phenomenological crises they present for the individuals’ relationship to the social and material world.
When we convene on the day, participants will be invited to speak to and query each other’s pre-circulated work, as guided and facilitated by the seminar leader. A small set of discussion questions focusing on points of intersection and through lines across the papers will be distributed for contemplation a few days before the seminar. Our aim will be to spend at least 5-10 minutes generally focused on each person’s contribution—though with much crosstalk encouraged, especially in the second hour.
Modernist Stress: Pressure, Production and Creation
British Association of Modernist Studies (BAMS) Reciprocal Session
Cécile Varry, Université de Paris, France
Polly Hember, Royal Holloway, University of London
Janine Utell, Widener University
“The better work men do is always done under stress and at great personal cost”
— William Carlos Williams, Spring and All (1923)
According to Enda Duffy, “stress is assuredly a modernist invention, yet it has virtually never been mentioned, let alone theorized as a topic in culture, by modernist scholars” (2015). This seminar invites participants to look at the manifestations of physical and psychological pressures in modernist works.
Although the use of the word “stress” to refer to a psychological and physiological phenomenon only gained currency in the 1930s and ’40s, the concept of a stress-response appeared as early as 1915 in the research of Walter Cannon, in relation to fight-or-flight reactions. (The concept of stress had previously been confined to the field of physics and engineering.) Increasingly, the debate around the use of stress-induced energy has become focused on normal and abnormal reactions to work: in an age where energy is harnessed by machines and subjected to the demands of capitalist production, stress urges us to become more attuned to the pressures of productivity over minds and bodies. While Cannon focused on stress as an adaptive response enabling mankind to confront emergencies, stress-induced energy remains a disruption of emotional balance, which, if prolonged and left unchecked, can affect physical and mental health.
From Pound’s advocacy of concentration against dispersal and Eliot’s association of the artistic process with forms of “intensity” and “pressure,” to Woolf’s and Joyce’s attention to the minute changes in their characters’ nervous states (to cite only a few all-to-canonical examples), modernist literature is deeply preoccupied with the spending and wasting of surplus energy, with the way bodies and minds react to various pressures, and with the role of these pressures in the facilitating or inhibiting of artistic creation.
Seminar participants will be asked to engage with one or more of the following questions:
● What are the roles of internal and external pressures in artistic creation; how do modernist energies get used or go to waste?
● In reading modernist texts through stress, and watching for its symptoms (shortness of breath, increased heartbeat, tension), can we glean any new insights into modernist bodies and their representations?
● What is the place of stress, strain, and exhaustion in authors’ biographies, correspondences, or life-writing?
● Can the writing of stress be seen as pathological, therapeutic, or both? How do modernist works make space for rest and release?
● How does the influence of war feature in modernist depictions of stress in relation to trauma and (shell-)shock? How does stressfulness engage with the memory or anticipation of emotional and physical violence?
● Is modernist stress a gendered issue? Do we read stress differently in women’s writing (e.g. nervousness, hysteria) and men’s writing (e.g. concentration, intensity)?
● How does the current atmosphere of climate anxiety change the way we pay attention to the environmental pressures at play in modernist writing?
● As scholars face increasing pressures of productivity, publication and employment, how do we relate to questions of productive and unproductive energy, concentration and dispersal? Does stress help or hinder our research culture; is there an element of productive pressure, and if so, what is the cost?
Modernist Editing Now
Amanda Golden, New York Institute of Technology
Bryony Randall, University of Glasgow
Adam Guy, University of Oxford
Jane Goldman, University of Glasgow
This seminar considers new approaches to print and digital scholarly editing in modernist studies. If, as David Greetham put it, “[t]he history of textual scholarship is the history of history,” how has scholarly editing shaped modernist studies, and how are new editions informing research and teaching? What questions have modernist texts presented, and how have editors addressed them? What editorial decisions have proved useful, and what kinds of editions would readers like to see?
We invite participants interested in the creation and use of scholarly editions, from those in the early stages of a project to those teaching with print or digital editions. For seminar members working on or having recently completed a project, what large- or small-scale issues have emerged and how have you or your collaborators responded to them? What questions remain, and what do they teach us about modernist studies? Other topics for discussion may include, but are not limited to, print and digital archives, working remotely, collaboration, locating and dating materials, annotation, and innovative pedagogies.
Networks, Infrastructures, and Other Modernist Passageways
Lauren Rosenblum, Adelphi University
Laurel Harris, Rider University
For the past thirty years, the network model has been influential in modernist studies, especially as we seek a more inclusive narrative of modernism. Weak theoretical turns and Digital Humanities projects, especially those involving mapping, have recently renewed this model of networked connections. At the same time, an “infrastructuralist” approach to texts focusing on the often invisible material culture that undergirds modern life—transportation networks, electrical grids, sewer systems, corridors and passageways—has been developed through the work of Michael Rubenstein, Kate Marshall, and Bruce Robbins among many others.
This seminar asks what these critical explorations of networks and infrastructures afford us when put into conversation. Networks and infrastructures define at once analogous and opposed forms of modern connectivity. Paul Edwards, for example, maintains that networks are “decentralized and distributed” while infrastructures are “centralized and hierarchical”; Caroline Levine, on the other hand, claims that “conventional infrastructures are best described as networks” as both are “not repetitive but connective forms.” Other theorists like Sara Ahmed complicate both paradigms in asking us to consider “orientations” alongside connections. How can we conceive of modernist networks that might connect global modernisms, feminism, queer studies, and the many other approaches that have adopted a network model? Is the network model too limiting to do justice to the varied and multiplicitous migratory paths of modernism? Or is it so broad that such lived spatial patterns of connectivity become potentially meaningless? How does a materialist focus on infrastructure challenge or enhance these network narratives? We solicit response papers that either 1) consider the limits and unmet potential of modernist network narratives or infrastructures; or 2) consider how modernist texts reify or reimagine the networked and/or infrastructural connections of modernity.
New Directions in Decadence Studies: Contexts, Geographies, Histories
Robert Volpicelli, Randolph-Macon College
Robert Stilling, Florida State University
Vincent Sherry, Washington University in St. Louis
Kate Hext, University of Exeter
In their introduction to Decadence in the Age of Modernism (2019), Kate Hext and Alex Murray speak of the “dizzying multiplicity of decadence in the early twentieth century” and the difficulty of detecting, much less defining, decadence outside fin-de-siècle Europe. Rather than shy away from that difficulty, this seminar seeks to explore new locations for decadence, both in and beyond the modernist era, and across a more globally extensive framework. While the subject of decadence has been treated within modernist studies with some regularity since the mid-1990s, a new wave of scholarship has brought decadence squarely to the center of our field, often with the goal of re-evaluating its broader relationship to modernism and its related literary and social movements. Recent works by Matthew Potolsky, Vincent Sherry, Kristen Mahoney, Robert Stilling, Alex Murray, and Kate Hext, for example, have demonstrated the persistent interest in decadent art and writing, and the lasting influence of figures such as Wilde, Huysmans, Beardsley, and Pater well past the1890s while challenging long-held understandings of decadence as a characteristic set of traits. Indeed, decadence studies has expanded in recent years to include range of late-decadent, modernist, queer, and Harlem Renaissance texts, Hollywood films, and colonial and postcolonial poetry and art.
Nevertheless, the story of decadence as a modern aesthetic mode remains dominated by its origin story in nineteenth-century France, while the contributions of non-Western understandings of historical decline, degeneration, or aesthetic decadence remain under-examined. By the same token, how might decadence be understood as an aesthetic response, for example, to colonialism, neo-colonialism, globalization, secularization, climate change, global migration, rising illiberalism, and so forth? To support a conversation centering on this recent expansion of decadence studies and the future directions it might take, this seminar seeks papers that approach decadence from new theoretical angles, compare well-known decadent texts to less traditional ones, explore decadence’s relationship to and circulation through various social contexts, locate decadence in or across new cultural, national, geographic, and ecological spaces, or extend the temporal boundaries of decadence beyond the fin de siècle. We invite work that addresses the arts, film, and new media as well as literature, and we welcome both scholars with considerable experience in this area and those who may be approaching decadence for the first time.
Victoria Rosner, Columbia University
Mary McLeod, Columbia University
Susan Fraiman, University of Virginia
Alice T. Friedman, Wellesley College
"Away with Coziness! Only where comfort ends, does humanity begin." (Adolf Behne)
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought both pressure and attention to domestic life, with homelessness and domestic violence on the rise, more people spending more time at home than ever before, and increased erosion of the separation between the spheres of home and work. Via Zoom and similar platforms, domesticity has become a spectacle as never before.
The contemporary crisis in domestic life invites a reconsideration of a parallel historical moment 100 years ago, when another pandemic—in concert with other factors, such as the impact of WWI—led to a significant revaluation of the scope, meaning, and shape of domestic life. Modernism gave rise to many radical experiments in the domestic, despite its outspoken repudiation of the comfortable and cozy.
This seminar offers an opportunity for us to consider together about how radical domesticity helped set the agenda for modernism in literature, theater, architecture and design, urban planning, and beyond. Seminar contributors may want to think back as far as the mid-nineteenth century, when social theorists like Fourier and Saint-Simon promulgated experiments in group living that challenged the traditional family and gender roles, or as far forward as 1960s domestic countercultures, or anywhere in between. The seminar will look to foster and extend comparative discussions about modernism across diverse forms of cultural production.
Pregnancy, Kinship, and Motion
Aimee Wilson, University of Kansas
Megan Faragher, Wright State University, Lake Campus
Pregnancy and kinship are intimately bound up with notions of transmission, movement, and the “carrying across” referenced in the conference theme: carrying the fetus until parturition; the transmission of fluids between the fetus and the gestating person; the passage of genetic matter through a family line; racist and ableist laws designed to prevent transmission of “unfit” genetic matter into “fit” genetic stock (as Dorothy Roberts states, “Antimiscegenation laws were a eugenic measure”); the importance of quickening—the moment the pregnant person first senses fetal movement—as a marker of fetal viability; or the process that Erin Kingsley terms “gestational immigration,” which refers to the “physical and psychological movement” that occurs when one becomes a parent. Linguistically, too, reproductive processes are linked with the rhetoric of motion. Hysteria, for instance, stems from the Greek word for “uterus,” and early twentieth-century treatments for hysteria drew on ancient theories of the “wandering womb” as a source of women’s ailments. Moreover, the word travel stems from travail. Most frequently used today to refer to mental or physical work, at earlier times travail referred specifically to childbirth. As Joyce E. Kelley notes in her study of the ways modernist women conceptualized travel as a catalyst for exploring creativity, the “personal ‘geographies’ of pregnancy” are underexplored.
This seminar seeks papers on all aspects of reproduction as depicted in modernist literature. Papers that address reproduction in context with motion, transmission, travel, or migration are preferred. We invite work that considers queer reproduction, including depictions of pregnant men and androgynous people. Possible topics include but are not limited to:
● Kinship and/or the anti-social thesis
● Family lineage
● The post-partum period
● Birth control and family planning
● Fertility treatments
● Womb transplants
The Modernist Scene
Alix Beeston, Cardiff University
Pardis Dabashi, University of Nevada, Reno
Cara L. Lewis, Indiana University Northwest
This seminar will explore the aesthetics and politics of modernism as they are expressed through scenes. Each participant will present a paper that focuses on one scene in a specific modernist text—whether film, theater, visual arts, literature, or other media.
The purpose of the seminar is, first, to think through the various formal and social implications of the scene as a unit of aesthetic expression. How does modernism across different media negotiate the formal boundaries of a scene? How do we know when a scene has begun, when it has ended? How can we account for the dual nature of scenes in narrative theory, as both a suspension of diegetic movement and a site of narrative intrigue? Second, we will consider the scenic in (or as) modernism. How does the category of the scene, defined as it is by a logic of inclusion and exclusion, allow us to appraise the shape and limits of the modernist scene—particularly as it appears from the vantage of contemporary modernist studies? Finally, our discussion will accommodate the gendered and aged valences of the scene in modernism. As in the parlance of “making a scene,” the scene is associated with irrationality and excess, cast as the dominion of women and the young—the tantrum of a child, for example, or the theatrics of female hysteria.
We invite papers that are anchored by the discussion of a specific modernist scene and that engage any or all of the above concerns.
Migration – Innovation – Labour
Torin McLachlan, University of British Columbia
Shalini Sengupta, University of Sussex
No migration without labour.
No “carrying across” without “carrying.” Whether we are discussing the “trans-” of translation, transnationalism, transgender identities, transference, or the coordinated movement of bodies through and across space, we cannot avoid considering the laborious elements of crossing through, changing over, passing beyond, or even going back. Can we “figure” migration without attending to labour?
How does migration condition and affect the aesthetic labour of modernist innovation? As a principle, or even an injunction, Ezra Pound’s “make it new” still offers a helpful gloss on the political and aesthetic demands of modernist projects in various forms. In the context of this demand for newness, we might even see migration as the making modern of modernism itself, in the propensities of crossing through, changing over, passing beyond, or even going back to generate “new” material and metaphorical configurations. What indeed is the status of “newness” in migration? Does thinking of migration as a condition of modernist writing help us understand its complex mediation of tradition?
In many ways, the “figuration” of labour can help us better understand the connections between migration and modernist innovation. As Gayatri Spivak notes in An Aesthetic Education: “Culture alive is always on the run.” Indeed, movement as critical method in Spivak’s work appropriates modernist themes for diverse purposes; see the “feminist shuttling” between “capitalism as modernity and reproductive heteronormativity,” for example. Or, consider Ishmael Reed’s 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo, where the “Jes Grew” dance-virus—aesthetic-innovation-become-involuntary-affliction—transposes the aspirant formal and social freedoms of jazz into the discourse of racial contagion, prompting reflection on the racial and capitalist logics of “carrying,” and renewing thinking about the effortful dimension underlying the “virality” of culture.
This seminar therefore promises an inter-disciplinary conversation about the effortful and productive nature of migrations, considered broadly. What are the intersections between the labour theory of value, biopolitics, and deconstructions of the subject/subjectivity in modernist writing, for example? How might a focus on the labour of migration help us understand anew modernist critiques and explorations of “the subject,” “sovereignty,” and “belonging,” in the context of political economy and the reproduction of global capital?
Rivky Mondal, University of Chicago
Amy Tang, University of Victoria
Jill Richards, Yale University
From W. H. Auden’s “the age of anxiety” to our age of doomscrolling, the global pandemic and various political protests compel us to examine emotions’ transformative power more closely. Grounded in the premise that “all politics is emotional” (Berlant), our seminar asks: how does modernism define the interplay between political and aesthetic emotion? Immanuel Kant’s “feeling of life,” Raymond Williams’s “structure of feeling,” Walter Benjamin’s “aura,” Clive Bell’s “significant form”: these various concepts attempt to encapsulate contemplative feelings about a work of art while also gesturing to a reflexive awareness of one’s mode of relating to the social. In many of these cases, the affective interaction between the work of art and the reader or viewer is not enclosed in the individual, but exists to animate transformative social and political action (see Jonathan Flatley, Sianne Ngai, Lauren Berlant, David Kurnick, Ben Highmore, etc.). Broadly calling these felt responses and interactions “aesthetic emotions,” this seminar invites participants to consider what kinds of aesthetic emotions modernism theorizes, represents, and/or embodies in relation to the political, the social, and the historical. We welcome work that explores how modernist experimentation contributes to alternative approaches to understanding aesthetic emotion (or inexpressibility or failure of such emotion), and how modernist artworks mobilize socio-political and materialist aspects of these vague yet specific feels connected to art. Participants are encouraged to respond to the following prompts, which will establish a shared set of concerns for our seminar:
● How do we think and feel with the politics and ethics of aesthetic emotions produced or theorized by modernist artworks?
● Besides negative, weak, ambivalent emotions, does modernism also engage with affirmative, happy, aggressive, and other emotions?
● Does aesthetic emotion become associated specifically with formalism in modernism, e.g. “the formal relations between color and shapes that exist within the boundaries of the frame,” in the words of Brian Glavey? What do “formal relations” mean for different modernist media? Are aesthetic emotions medium specific?
● Despite their highly subjective nature, thinkers of aesthetic theory have suggested the universalizable qualities of aesthetic emotion and judgment. Is there a contemporary version of this, such as in the affective turn of literary studies?
● Does attuning ourselves to aesthetic emotion raise methodological questions (different modes of reading and looking)? For instance, does close reading produce different affective valences than surface or distant reading?
● How do we conceptualize aesthetic judgment when it comes to such a slippery notion as “aesthetic emotion”? Does the locus of aesthetic emotion move from the body to the brain with modernism? How do our interpretive practices account for felt modes of aesthetic judgment that are ineffable/difficult to explain and justify to others?
● How do we understand the relationship of aesthetic emotion to intellectual enjoyment and interpretative pleasure in modernist studies (reading and interpreting “difficult texts,” for example)?
● What other questions would emerge from our reorientation to aesthetic emotion? Does this reorientation further unsettle the already plural and muddy definitions of modernism?
Fostering Activists: A Seminar for the Modernist Scholar-Activist
Laura Hartmann-Villalta, Georgetown University
J. Ashley Foster, California State University, Fresno
At the Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf in 2014, Mark Hussey posed a number of questions to the opening plenary roundtable, one of the most poignant being: “Does [Virginia] Woolf’s ‘thinking is my fighting’ really make a difference now?” As many teacher-scholars consider themselves activists, following in the line of Jane Marcus’s statement that “Literary criticism is inescapably political,” and as the state of our profession goes deeper and deeper into crisis, the question arises as to how these two elements—activism and the state of the profession—converge. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of “The New Modernist Studies,” that panel at 2019’s Modernist Studies Association Conference, this was heavy on many modernists' minds, as evidenced by challenges to the panelists by junior scholars focused on the state of the profession and its future. This conversation continued in the roundtables entitled “The Future of Modernist Studies in the Age of Precarity” and “New Feminist Modernist Manifestos,” that featured talks on “Angry Modernism,” Dark Modernism,” Sketchy Modernism,” and “Suffering Modernism.” Anxieties over how to pivot from traditional scholar-teachers to activists, both within the field and within the community, abound.
This seminar aims to achieve the following: 1.) a space especially for graduate students, adjuncts, and community college modernist scholars—but welcoming of all—to share the challenges of maintaining scholarship and progressing through research in a waning hiring field; 2.) an exchange and examination of institutional differences and obstacles to activism and the development of strategies for organizing both inter and intra-institutions; 3.) links to modernist activism as a means of historical framing, inspiration, and fostering integration for young scholar-activists; and 4.) accounts from and about this subject position and her struggles—and triumphs—in the academy.
Led by Laura Hartmann-Villalta and J. Ashley Foster and grounded in feminist approaches to networking, this seminar seeks to create an informal, non-hierarchal space where participants leave with concrete strategies that provide beacons of light for the precariat and establish communication networks that go beyond their institutions.
“Fostering Activists: A Seminar for the Modernist Scholar-Activist” asks participants to share 5-7 pages of a potential variety of writing: reflective writing on their experiences or perceptions of union organizing, protest, activism; manifestoes on how their teaching links to their activism or scholarship; and scholarship on activism in modernist texts and figures that reveal coping strategies and lessons learned from past encounters in the modernist era.
We seek to create a feminist collective of non-hierarchical voices, so no respondent or positions of prestige. Rather than attempt to posit alternative-academic careers and a means out of the precariat (although the seminar certainly encourages this route), this seminar wants participants to share strategies for making it work in this position, not burning out, keeping a scholarly agenda, and most importantly, organizing across institutions for effective change and resistance. Individuals will leave the seminar with next steps and an action plan that will be revisited in workshop form at MSA 2022 in Portland.